Saturday, March 12, 2005

Job: Research Assistant. Pay: Unscrupulously low. Benefits: You are a masochist, you don't need any.

On Word by Word I am often prone to ask people how or if or why they research for their novels, always asking with the secret sense of loathing on their behalf for having to do such a terrible, awful, horrible thing. Some, like Andrew Sean Greer, author of the Confessions of Max Tivoli (which I persisted in mis-pronouncing), make research sound like great sex. Others are closer to my side of the fence, though they still make themselves do it. They have a little something called willpower that I do not have.

Perhaps this bias of mine against research stems from those few stupid papers I did in college on such topics as: wormholes, depression, whether or not God was a compassionate or veangeful God, and the language of scientific writing. See, NOW, those topics sound really interesting! But back to my 18 year-old self, who was much more interested in being the submissive girlfriend and possible award-winning international journalist than any kind of serious writer, the topics, and the research required were tedious, because this was pre-high-tech Charles Schultz info center at Sonoma State University.

So I had to look up all those little subjects and pick out a handful of dewy-decimal ordered books that may or may not have been close to my subject, and spend hours in the dusty but strangely comforting nooks of the Ruben Salazar library surrounded by those beautiful, odd little books, listening to the hushed mutterings of my peers while looking out on the green commons ...oh my GOD! I miss this process. I loved it. What am I saying? Google has ruined me. That's what has happened. Google has taken the joy out of it for me. Cursed search-engine!


My point was that I hate research because I'm not able to stop, to know when something is enough, and I'm sort of unnaturally afraid of it (I'm also lazy). I think it comes from a place of wanting to believe that I can make up everything worth writing down...but the more I write, the less I feel this is true. I mean, sure, if I want to write about the four walls of my office and the number of plates in my kitchen dish-drainer, then I probably don't need any research. Then again, I think maybe I need help. Like the character of Daisy Andalusia in Alice Mattison's book, "The Marriage of the Two-Headed Woman." Daisy helps people organize their clutter, and for the man she has an affair with, she organizes newspaper articles into subjects and categories since he's collected them but can't put them in any order. I need this. Someone to go with me on one of these library excursions and, having an understanding of what it is I need, essentially tell me which books, possibly even which paragraphs to read.

I'm such a sad sack. This research hang-up could really keep me from writing about a lot of stuff...

Aw. Well.

Here's another beautiful mind-fuck from the Tao-Te-Ching for you:

"Always be without desire
in order to observe its wondrous subtleties;
Always have desire
so that you may observe its manifestations."

P.S. Hilary Duff.


At 7:10 AM, Blogger Myfanwy Collins said...

oh man. I'm so with you on this. I start and can't stop. Due to some past research, I tend to bore people know with mind-numbing facts about the difference between black and grizzly bears and what to do if either attacks you (see, right then I was just about to launch into an explanation!).

Oh, and, I tried to post here about the feast of love the other day but blogger wouldn't let me. anyway, I'm almost done (have had a brutal cold and am reading slowly) and can't wait to discuss with you!


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